A recent state Supreme Court decision declaring only "blighted" properties can be acquired through eminent domain will have no effect on Lambertville's plans to redevelop the old high school and other lots on Connaught Hill, according to officials.
In plain terms, according to Planning Board Chairman Timothy Korzun, the court's ruling applies to "stupid development where there is really no good reason" for a government to take over private property.
That's not the case in Lambertville where one of the properties under consideration for a makeover represents the textbook definition of blight, according to Mr. Korzun.
"We went out of our way to make clear we are not displacing anybody," Mr. Korzun said. "You can't just knock down a neighborhood because you want to put up a shopping mall. We were fortunate to have consultants who know this field backwards and forwards."
The old high school on the hill is "burned out and falling down. The current owner is doing nothing with it," Mr. Korzun said. "It's the classic definition of blight."
The city has discussed acquiring the property through eminent domain but has not made a formal declaration yet, according to Mr. Korzun.
The school suffered two fires, in 1955 and 1992. Nearby there is a landfill that could cost at least $1 million to seal off and make the land useable again.
"No one has ever really priced it or done a comprehensive study," Mr. Korzun said.
The landfill, which has not been used in about 40 or 50 years, is not sealed.
"It's never been encapsulated, sealed off," Mr. Korzun said. "To take a brownfield and make it buildable, it's not impossible. It's not cheap either."
The city is "not terribly interested" in taking on that kind of expense on its own, Mr. Korzun said. The answer could lie with a developer, but "people haven't been chomping at the bit. The potential cleanup could be cost prohibitive."
Other problems standing in the way of turning the property into something useable again are sewer and water hookups.
"Getting water up there is a real, real headache," Mr. Korzun said.
One possible solution would be to run a water line up the hill, similar to one that runs up Quarry Street.
"Nobody really loves that idea," Mr. Korzun said. "That's too expensive."
One idea for the school is to preserve the stone façade and build something new around it, such as condos, for example.
"Some people are sniffing around, but it's a waiting game," Mr. Korzun said.
The other properties on the hill that are subject to redevelopment efforts consist of undersized lots, many whose titles are murky. Two lots would be required to make one buildable lot. Habitat for Humanity already has constructed several houses there. Another area of the hill will hold a new park for the hill's residents this year.
The state Supreme Court decision on June 13 came as a ruling in the case of Gallenthin Realty Development Inc. vs. the Borough of Paulsboro. The Gallenthin family owned property since 1951 and used it since 1902 to moor barges transporting produce. The family also leased it to others for river access, storage and parking.
In 1998, Paulsboro had a new Master Plan that identified areas that should be redeveloped to stimulate the local economy. By 2003, the Gallenthin property became part of that plan. The Gallenthin family sued, and the Supreme Court upheld their claim.
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